The absence of backpackers and seasonal workers due to COVID has not only led to labour shortages, but also greater health and safety risks for farm workers. Many of these workers are entering farming environments for the first time and are lacking the experience or necessary fitness to perform physically demanding work.
VFF Farm Safety Advisor Richard Versteegen suggests that while robust safety induction processes should always be in place, this year it will be even more critical to ensure that extra effort is put into inducting and training workers before allowing them to work for the first time.
“One of the pillars of the employer duty to provide a safe workplace includes adequate training, instruction and supervision to ensure the safety of workers” Richard stated.
“Having evidence of training on important safety issues, including taking employees through policies and procedures and ensuring that they are aware of how to report hazards and incidents, as well as first aid and emergency procedures is critically important”.
We are likely to have a different cohort of workers entering the industry this year with some people taking up seasonal work out of necessity due to business closures due to Covid. Farmers will need to ensure that they make these workers aware of the risks of interactions with plant and machinery and to keep an eye on the manner in which they work and their hours of work.
Fatigue will be a factor for workers not conditioned to outdoor labour or for those who have become deconditioned due to inactivity during lockdown. Both types will need time to build their strength.